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Growing number of Congressional Black Caucus members support the Energy Innovation Act

Karen Bass and CCL volunteers

CCL volunteers with Rep. Karen Bass (center) chair of the Congressional Black Caucus and cosponsor of the Energy Innovation Act. Valerie Bane (right) sits on CCL’s governing board.

Growing number of Congressional Black Caucus members support the Energy Innovation Act

By Jamie Ptacek

Ever since the Energy Innovation Act was introduced, CCL volunteers have worked to grow support for it in communities across the country and in every congressional office. One group with notable—and still growing—support of the bill is the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

In the first few months of this year, six members of the CBC signed on to the Energy Innovation Act as cosponsors. After a record number of Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers lobbied on Capitol Hill this June, nine more cosponsors from the CBC jumped onto the bill. After CCL lobbied on the Hill again last week, even more members signed on. Today, a full 37% of Congressional Black Caucus members are also cosponsors of the Energy Innovation Act.

Black Caucus

The first six Congressional Black Caucus members to cosponsor the Energy Innovation Act were Rep. Hank Johnson, Rep. Alcee Hastings, Rep. Yvette Clarke, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Robin Kelly, and Rep. Al Lawson.

Building relationships and connecting priorities

One of those members is Rep. Karen Bass of California, the current chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Rep. Bass was first elected to Congress in 2010, and she was elected to chair the CBC in 2018. She signed onto the Energy Innovation Act this July, thanks in part to persistent advocacy from passionate CCL members in her district. 

In CCL’s Los Angeles West chapter, Philip Bauer and Huguette Perez serve as co-liaisons to Rep Bass’ office. “Our chapter’s relationship with Rep. Bass has been a positive one,” they said. Congresswoman Bass’ Field Representative, Jacqueline Hamilton, has always been available for meetings and has given Philip and Huguette guidance on how to help gain more support from Rep. Bass, such as working with LA-area environmental justice groups, or attending her town halls and asking climate-related questions. 

Karen Bass staffer Jackie Hamilton

Rep. Bass’ staffer Jackie Hamilton (center) with CCL volunteers at a meeting in Los Angeles in January 2019.

Consistently, Philip and Huguette noted Rep. Bass’ priorities about environmental justice. She and her staff want to be sure green jobs will be available to lower income and minority communities, and issues like air and noise pollution will be addressed.  

Elizabeth Fenner leads the CCL Los Angeles Mid-City chapter, where many volunteers are also represented by Rep. Bass. When Elizabeth first joined CCL three years ago, CCLers were already meeting with Rep. Bass’ office regularly, and the office was always engaged and asking pointed questions. “They wanted to know ‘How is it going to help our constituents?’” Elizabeth remembers. “She would say, ‘Who are you coalitioning with?’ So we would go out to the health groups, the community building groups that she respected. They were focused on civil rights and economics, and not on the environment—we really had to build relationships from the ground up there.” 

Valerie Bane, Marshall Saunders

Valerie Bane (right) with CCL founder Marshall Saunders

Leading up to CCL’s 2019 June Lobby Day this summer, CCL members from Rep. Bass’ district wrote to her office regularly and attended town halls to keep Rep. Bass engaged and updated on the status of the Energy Innovation Act and CCL’s work. (That’s in addition to having meetings in person with the office every quarter!)

Valerie Bane, CCL’s California State Diversity Coordinator and a member of CCL’s governing board, participated in the lobby meeting with Rep. Bass’ office in June. One of the staffers specified that some of the congresswoman’s high priorities were child welfare, work on the Foreign Affairs Committee in West Africa, and criminal justice reform. “We tailored our biweekly emails to the Rep. Bass office to include these priorities and their connection to climate change,” Valerie notes.

Celebrating her cosponsorship

Two months after that June meeting, Rep. Bass signed on as a cosponsor for the Energy Innovation Act. “The chapter was incredibly grateful and excited to discover Rep. Bass had cosponsored the bill,” Philip and Huguette said. Peter Jennings, another member of the LA West chapter, said he was “delighted,” and Elizabeth Fenner described her reaction to the news as “unadulterated bliss and joy.” 

The timing did come as a bit of a surprise—the volunteers weren’t sure what exactly had brought her to cosponsor when she did. But it’s clear that years of relationship building with climate-concerned constituents like Philip and Huguette laid a solid foundation for her to step up when the time was right. 

At CCL’s most recent Capitol Hill meeting with Rep. Bass, Valerie wanted to understand better why the congresswoman had chosen to support the Energy Innovation Act, and got her answer from one of Rep. Bass’ staffers. 

The staffer said, “Rep. Bass takes a lot of pride in being a woman of color. And, she strongly supports overlooked communities when considering any policy that is moved forward. Climate change is among her top issues. She believes that we are all living and experiencing the effects of a declining environment. Urgent action must be taken. Rep. Bass’ constituents want to see immediate action taken. And, because H.R. 763 is bipartisan, the congressmember sees great potential in the bill progressing.” 

Princella Talley

Princella Talley

Diversity is key

CCL is incredibly encouraged by the support the Energy Innovation Act has from so many members of the Congressional Black Caucus. Princella Talley, one of CCL’s Development Associates and Diversity Outreach Coordinators, explains that diverse support is crucial. “Truly equitable solutions cannot come from one perspective. A wide range of voices must be at the table,” she explains. That’s true across party affiliation, across racial and cultural lines, and more. “The climate movement is about protecting all of us and our natural world. Therefore, all of us should be here together, supporting one another as we move forward.”

Jamie Ptacek is a communications intern at Citizens’ Climate Lobby. She has a B.A in Environmental Studies and Earth and Oceanographic Science from Bowdoin College. She has just returned back to the US after traveling through SE Asia for 10 months and plans to continue her work as a climate justice activist and organizer